Power of Perception

The problem with the nuclear power plants in Japan after a strong earthquake and the tsunami that followed is having an impact on not only the nuclear power industry but on the ability of our essential industries to have the confidence of the public, investors, employees and consumers.

The story is not about one industry where there are inherent dangers.  Nuclear power. Oil. Hospitals. Chemicals. Aviation. Pharmaceuticals.  All of these industries are inherently dangerous and often in the news when injuries and deaths occur.  All are full of risks. The dangers are mitigated by the professionals who work in these industries.  The safest of these industries is aviation.   

We have always known that the use of checklists in any industry is a sure way to reduce risks.  The use of checklists by pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, ground handlers, and flight attendants have contributed to an industry where risks are reduced and when something does go wrong there is a specified way to deal with the problem.  Pilots do not rely on memory. Experienced pilots rely on checklists just as do pilots in training.

The perception of the public has been that our essential industries are doing much more than they need to do to reduce risks to employees in that industry and to consumers.  But today, the public is more sceptical.  Nuclear plants cannot be controlled.  Drugs have unexpected side effects. Hospitals injure and kill patients.  Oil leaking from wells injures and kills wildlife and destroys ecosystems.  An aircraft skids off the runway.

We need to know what the perception is.  But more importantly, we need to know how to change that perception so that consumers have more confidence in an industry.